Two years after the tragic fire at a garment factory in Baldia, factories have yet to learn their lesson, remarked trade unionists and labourers on Wednesday.
Speaking at a press conference organised by the National Trade Union Federation Pakistan (NTUFP) at the Karachi Press Club, they painted a dismal picture of the conditions of factories and workplaces.
"Factories can no longer allow themselves to be death-traps," said trade unionist and NTUFP deputy general secretary Nasir Mansoor, presenting the demands of the labourers. "The government must ratify the International Labour Organisation's conventions on workplace safety and occupational hazards and implement them."
Commenting on the state of factories in Pakistan, he said that 90 per cent of them had not been registered under the Factories Act of 1934 - just like Ali Enterprises, which had been operating for 11 years before the fire. Meanwhile, 95 per cent of the factory workers had no appointment letters. "No one works for a mere eight hours in these factories," said Mansoor. "They work for 12 to 14 hours, and even then are not paid the minimum wage."
Factory Affectees Association organiser Mohammad Jabbir declared that factories which did not provide safety to their workers should be sealed. "In Ali Enterprises, there was only one point for entry and exit," he recalled. Labour leader Usman Baloch agreed with him, adding that factory workers were kept like prisoners, in rooms with no doors, no windows and no ventilation.
The demands were not meant to hurt any businesses, Mansoor clarified; instead, the campaigners only wanted reforms for the working conditions of the labourers. He claimed that for each product which was sold at a price of $100 abroad, the worker only received half a dollar.
Mansoor added that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had promised Rs300,000 compensation for the workers on behalf of the Punjab government after the incident, but it was yet to be paid.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2014.